Having a lot of keys can be cumbersome. They poke holes in pockets, get lost in purses, and dig into your thighs. KeySmart wants to change that.
The Mount Prospect, Illinois-based startup makes key holders that arrange your keys into a metal, Swiss Army-like organizer the size of a small pack of gum. For this holiday season, KeySmart has set up in the Shops at North Bridge on Michigan Avenue now through December 31.
Users can also attach bulky car keys and USB drives to their KeySmart, as well as purchase uncut aluminum AirKeys, which are electrically anodized to created different key colors. Using extension packs, the KeySmart can hold up to 100 keys.
KeySmart started as a side project for CEO Michael Tunney, according to KeySmart’s sales manager—and Michael’s brother—Kevin Tunney. Sales later became too much for Michael to handle alone, so Kevin joined in to help.
“The whole idea of KeySmart came up when [Michael] used to go out with [a] phone, and keys and a wallet. They’re always bulging out or poking you in the thigh,” Kevin said. “The idea came from the minimalist wallets that minimize stuff in your pocket. He applied that same concept to the key ring.”
Michael launched the company with a 2012 KickStarter campaign to raise $6,000, but ultimately raised nearly $330,000, which Kevin said was a surprise to them because of how quickly the idea spread.
Since then the company has expanded to other countries such as Germany, France, Switzerland, and Japan. In addition to navigating international regulations, designing KeySmarts for international keys sent the company back to the drawing board—international keys are about half an inch longer than standard U.S. keys.
Customers can buy KeySmart online or through Bed, Bath & Beyond, Kevin said, adding that the company also sells its products at trade shows and other events. Though the company does not have a brick-and-mortar store, it has kept manufacturing operations in the U.S. and is working on developing new products.
“There’s still more international markets to expand into, but the goal is to make the company just KeySmart,” Kevin said. “In general, keys won’t be around forever, whether that be in five,10, or 20 years. . . . We really want to just expand our product line and base it around the minimalist idea.”
Prior to KeySmart, Kevin was in real estate and Michael was an engineer. Working in real estate was fine, but it was good to transition into a family business, Kevin said.
“I’ve never had any complaints about my jobs in the past, but transitioning to a small, family business was a whole other lifestyle,” Kevin said. “I feel a lot more passionate about working at KeySmart than any other job I’ve ever had.”